Senate cancels confirmation hearing for Pentagon nominee Tata as GOP senator says he'll vote no

It’s unclear if Tata’s nomination will survive. Pentagon spokesman says Tata will continue to serve as a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
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Canadian Brig. Gen. David Fraser, left, and U.S. Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata answer questions from reporters Tuesday, April 4, 2006, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.Murray Brewster / AP file

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By Allan Smith and Courtney Kube

The confirmation hearing for Anthony Tata, a controversial nominee for a top Pentagon job, was canceled Thursday shortly before it was scheduled to start as it became clear he might not have the votes to make it through the committee.

In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said, "There are many Democrats and Republicans who didn’t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time."

"We didn’t get the required documentation in time; some documents, which we normally get before a hearing, didn’t arrive until yesterday," he continued. "As I told the president last night, we’re simply out of time with the August recess coming, so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed."

It remains unclear if Tata's nomination to serve as undersecretary of Defense for policy will survive. During a Thursday briefing, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tata "plans to continue to" serve as a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Sen. Jack Reed, ranking Democrat on the committee, said "“We’re a bipartisan committee. It’s fair to say members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee. We had a closed-door session on Tuesday and today’s public hearing has now been cancelled. Chairman Inhofe did the right thing here, and it’s clear this nomination isn’t going anywhere without a full, fair, open hearing.”

Inhofe's announcement came after Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he was opposing Tata's nomination unless the Pentagon changes its position on adding the names of sailors killed aboard the USS Frank E. Evans to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. With 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats on the committee, Cramer's position tips the balance against Tata advancing out of the panel.

A retired Army brigadier general, Tata has expressed Islamophobic views publicly and in 2018 called former President Barack Obama a "terrorist leader" on Twitter. Tata additionally claimed the Iran nuclear deal came about because of Obama's "Islamic roots" and was an attempt "to help Iranians and the greater Islamic state crush Israel."

In a letter to Inhofe and Reed, D-R.I., Tata said he regretted those remarks, as CNN reported.

Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, condemned Tata for the comments. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in a statement that someone who expresses Tata's views has "no business serving in high positions in our government."

"Islam is a faith of peace, and Muslims are a vital part of American history and society," Biden said. "Islamophobia is a pernicious disease. It does not belong in the halls of government."

Wa'el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action, a Muslim American advocacy group, called it "inexcusable for those in top policy positions to have such Islamophobic views."

"Putting such individuals in these positions of power normalizes anti-Muslim sentiment, and will inevitably contribute to policies that are harmful for Muslim communities domestically and abroad," he said.

Asked Thursday if Esper has seen Tata's past postings, Hoffman said, "the general himself has stated that he does not believe or support the statements he made."

The White House remains supportive of Tata, who has offered pro-Trump commentary on Fox News.

Garrett Haake contributed.